(Five out of Five Stars)
Amadeus tells the story of immortal composer and icon Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or more precisely is a film-adaptation based on a famous dramatized semi-biographical play, that speculates on the man behind the music, and the circumstances of his life and death. The tale is unfolded masterfully from the perspective of a now elderly madman contemporary of Mozart; one Salieri, who in a fit of rage and despair attempts suicide in his palatial home, proclaiming in his dying breath that he murdered Mozart. A young naive priest approaches Salieri in the Sanatorium where he has been brought to recover, and induces a flashback-style telling of how it all supposedly happened. From there we become familiar with Salieri's rise from the humble rural life to a prestigious royal appointment to the post of the Austrian court composer, and eventually, his encounter and undoing at the hands of a small, ill-mannered delinquent musical prodigy named Wolfgang. What follows is a veritable array of twists and turns, as Salieri descends into corruption and falls from grace, while Mozart conquers the world with his music, and in turn meets a tragic end at the hands of a fickle and undeserving society, and his nearly limitless talent.
Recipient of no less than 8 Academy Awards, and 7 nominations, Amadeus is arguably one of the all-time best movies ever committed to film. There virtually no aspect of Amadeus that is devoid of genius and/or beauty. Highlights include a tour-de-force performance by the unique F. Murray Abraham (as Salieri), with an all-star cast of brilliant thespians, dancers and musicians to round out the story. Mozart is incredibly portrayed by then-newcomer Tome Hulce, who expresses every emotion and movement with such authenticity and genuine feeling, that the viewer is left to wonder if they aren't in fact witnessing the composer's reincarnation. The movie is saturated with emotion, human tragedy, intrigue, politics, all set to an aptly assembled and edited array of Amadeus' most celebrated works of art.
The Ravenloft factor of Amadeus is simply blinding and completely impossible to ignore. This is the perfect case-study for any DM or player wanting to understand character motivation, emotion, sensibility. It also explores the tragic flaws of human character and really goes to the heart of the consequences of greed, envy, innocence and genius. The Salieri character in particular goes through virtually every step of the path of darkness&corruption (safe for supernatural deformities), while we are treated to a uniquely enlightening view of Renaissance-era politics and society. Players and DM's engaging in "high society" type campaigns will especially benefit from a viewing (or three) of Amadeus.
If Ravenloft were taught at a University level, Amadeus 101 would be required material for graduation.
(Three out of Five stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Army of Darkness is the third in the unholy Evil Dead trilogy. This sequel plays a little loose with the events of the previous movie, but remains true to the story in Evil Dead II. Bruce Campbell returns as the indomitable Ash, trapped in the past following the events in Evil Dead II. Low on gas and surrounded by primitive screw-heads Ash must find the Necronomicon or be forever trapped in the Dark Ages. Along the way, our hero battles the deadites, evil replicants and an army of... well.. darkness.
This film is much lower on the gore and the horror is non-existent. Raimi plays up the dark humor and slapstick to create a cavalcade of clichés and Kitsch. This film sets the tone for the rest of the Evil Dead franchise, including comics, video games and a Broadway play. This movie packs a lot of laughs, but is too much regular comedy and too little black comedy.
Dungeon Masters might find some difficulty in translating the slapstick comedy of Army into a game. Though the movie brings a host of encounters and adventures, nearly all of them are clichés. That said, the windmill scene would make an excellent addition to a Ravenloft game, and Dungeon Masters might want to remember Ash's example should players be caught forgetting crucial game knowledge.
Say it with me: Klaatu... verada... necktie?
Barry Lyndon (2004)
(4 out of 5)
Barry Lyndon is not so much a movie as it is an epic "period piece art film". It tells the tale of 17th century lower-noble Irishman Redmond Barry, who embarks on a journey of adventure, intrigue and peril that will change his life forever. Barry first joins the army after getting in trouble with the law over a duel with a gentleman of repute. His trials in the army help raise him in stature and carry him into higher circles of nobility, where Barry finally realizes his greatest wish; to become a powerful lord with lands and riches. Barry schemes and plots his way to the top by seducing a beautiful young noble woman with a great fortune, and quickly gaining her hand the minute the lady's elderly husband has expired. He even goes as far as to adopt the false title of Lord Barry Lyndon, creating a great scandal in the courts of England. In the end Barry learns (the hard way) the corrupting effects of power and wealth, and effectively engineers his own fall from grace by being arrogant and inconsiderate of his family.
Lyndon works on several levels. The 17th century European setting is of course totally appropriate for any Demntlieu/Richemulot/Mordent scenario. Barry himself is a tremendously unconventional protagonist with his flaws and shortcomings being the cause of his eventual downfall. He is in a sense his own worst enemy, and often behaves like a bratty schoolboy when faced with adversity. Lydon is in fact quite despicable and not someone you would like to have as a friend or father. That is precisely what makes him so interesting.
Visually this movie is stunning. The scenery, the colors and textures, the production; unbelievable. Pay close attention to Kubrick's mastery as certain scenes slow down and come to a stop, making you realize that you're actually looking at real-life renditions of Monet-like paintings. Kubrick's use of colored lenses is also a stroke of genius and innovation. Barry Lyndon is possibly the most underrated and unknown masterpiece from the eccentric filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.
The Black Cat (1934)
(Four of Five Stars)
Honeymooners Peter and Jaon Allison (Manners and Wells) are stranded in an isolated house in a Hungarian backwater. Here, they become drawn into the evil Satanist Hjaldmar Poelzig (Karloff) and the revenge-plans of his one-time friend Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi). As the story unfolds, the depth of Poelzig's evil and perversion is revealed in its fullest, and it seems there will be no escape for anyone.
"The Black Cat" is a stylish, incredibly creepy B-movie. It takes place almost entirely within a house built upon the site of a ruined WWI fortress, with the lower levels being the decaying remains of the original structure and the upper floors consisting of a sleek, ultra-modern home. Both sections of the structure lend to the tone of dread that permeates the entire film--with the well-lit, clean rooms of the upper levels of Poelzig's home being even creepier than that the shadow-haunted lower levels thanks to some fine camera work--although the revelation of Poelzig's "exhibit" of beautiful women below has got to be the most terrifying moment of the film. (In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a more evil and perverted character present anywhere in these classic horror films than Poelzig: Satanism, treachery, mass-murder, pedophilia... you name it, Poelzig's done it/is into it. (Karloff doesn't have a lot to do acting-wise, other than to just be sinister... but, boy, does he do that in spades here!)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film is Lugosi. First, those who watch "The Black Cat" will get to see that he was, in fact, a great actor at one time. The pain Dr. Werdegast feels when he is told his wife and daughter died while he languished in a Russian prison is conveyed with incredible strength, as is the mixture of pain and rage when he later learns the truth about their fates, as he and the Allisons manage to seize the initiative from Poelzig and his cultists. Second, it's interesting to see Lugosi playing a hero for once, even if a deeply flawed hero.
On a quirky note, I often complain that horror movies from 30s through the 60s and early 70s often just end: The story resolves and the credits roll without providing the audience with the nicety of a denoument. "The Black Cat" DOES provide what I wish more films would, yet here I almost wish that last minute or so hadn't been included. This is a film that probably should have ended while still in darkness.
While "The Black Cat" has absolutely nothing to do with the Poe tale that "suggested" it--it's got more in common with "The Fall of the House of Usher", I'd say--I think it represents a high point of the horror films that Universal was making in the 30s. I don't see it mentioned often, and I think it's a shame. It's a film that's worth seeing.
The Bunker (2001)
(Two out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Not too long ago I discovered The Bunker at my local video store. The combination of World War II and supernatural creatures sparked my interest instantly. "Nazis and undead? I've never heard of that combination before - how can I lose?" Sadly, the Germans in this film do an even worse job of entertaining than they do of fighting. The film opens up in the last few days of the Second World War, with the Germans being pushed out of France by the advancing Americans. A squad of typical British-sounding Germans takes shelter in an old bunker with the predictable company of a crotchety old man and a fresh-faced kid in uniform. "My god, is this all Germany has left?" At least those of you who have no historical knowledge of WWII will be surprised - the rest of us have forgotten that the characters are discovering that fact for the first time.
Like their historical counterparts, the Germans feel safe in their concrete bunker - despite the fact that an army is advancing on their pathetically garrisoned prison er... I mean bunker. While digging in, the soldiers find a passage to a series of tunnels, which are strangely undeveloped. The old man explains that there were plans to turn the tunnels into an extensive installation - but "They didn't like it down there". The German Weremachet is, apparently, a really finicky organization. The old man relates the mandatory spooky tale regarding the bunker, which, while interesting, has little to do what follows in the movie. Our hapless Brits...er, I mean Germans, fall prey to a predictable series of mind games which leads them to being trapped in the tunnels - where one of them goes mad. Trapped in a hell of their own making, only the innocent will escape The Bunker.
All things said and done, this movie was a great disappointment. While competently made, directed and acted, the film lacked originality. Worse still, this movie committed the ultimate sin - it was boring. There is tension, subtly, and fear in this film - just nothing that makes you give a damn what happens. It just goes to show that it's never enough just to do "okay".
(Five out of five stars)
John Russell (Scott) moves from New York to the Pacific Northwest to get a fresh start after his wife and daughter are killed in a car accident. The still-grieving widower rents a ramshackle old mansion where an escalating series of odd occurrences lead him into communication with an angry, and increasingly violent, ghost. Will John uncover the secrets that have been locked inside the Chessman House for over seven decades, or will he become the victim of anger, hurt, and betrayal so deep that even death couldn't still it?
"The Changeling" is one of the top five horror movies ever made, and definitely one of the very best haunted house movies ever made. The cast is excellent, the pacing of the film is perfect--with tension building and building with each manifestation of the ghost. Who knew that a little rubber ball could be an object of terror? Well, after watching "The Changeling" you will!
The movie is particularly remarkable in this day and age, because not a single one of the scares is of the "gotcha" or false variety. When the movie presents something scary and ominous, it truly is. The film also presents its scares without any gore, virtually no violence, and very few special effects--and there isn't a cartoon--sorry, CGI--monster to be seen anywhere. "The Changeling" delivers tension and terror through masterful camera usage, lighting, set design, and great acting. They, sadly, don't make them like this anymore. (The Changeling was released in 1980.)
The only unfortunate part about "The Changeling" is that is sort of stalls at the very end. After a tremendous build-up and what is the start of a powerful climax, the film sort of hiccups and seems to run out of gas. But this is only the last few minutes. Everything up to that point is a ghost movie that is made perfectly.
This film is a must-see for everyone who loves ghost stories and horror movies.
(3.5 out of 5)
Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer and written by Kevin Brodbin, Mark Bomback and Frank Capello, Constantine tells the tale of disgruntled occult-detective-exorcist John Constantine, who's going through some particularly bad things as we join the story. It's not enough that he's been overwhelmed with strange possession cases lately and that the world seems to be getting darker and more desolate by the day, but John's also dying from massive lung cancer due to his 30 cigarette-a-day habit. Meanwhile, the streets are overrun by freaks, demons and angels in disguise, all buzzing with anticipation of some important event about to unfold.
While John reluctantly continues his fight against demonic intruders in a desperate attempt to "buy his way into heaven", somewhere in South America, a random homeless man makes a startling discovery that may prematurely bring about the End of Days, by releasing the most evil force in the universe since Lucifer. John eventually teams up with a dough-eyed female detective that's investigating the unnatural demise of her psychic twin-sister, and together they prepare to face the greatest challenge of both their careers. Will John redeem himself in the eyes of God? Will the Devil's wretched spawn break through the barriers between Earth and Hell and bring about the apocalypse? Will John stop smoking?
A lot of critics, especially die-hard fans of the original Hellblazer comic were pretty harsh with their reviews of Constantine. It is in fact not a bad movie at all. Flawed, but not without merit. Many are quick to point out their disappointment in the casting of Reeves as JC in light of Keanu's legendary wooden-stoned-surfer acting style. While he certainly doesn't sell anyone on the supposed grit and ruggedness of the Constantine character, he nevertheless manages to bring subtle humor and sarcasm to the role by squinting a lot and bowing his head a lot. Reeves doesn't hurt this movie that much due to stellar performances by the supporting cast, in particular Stomare who actually manages to give the overrated role of the Devil a creepy and hilarious treatment.
From the Ravenoft perspective, Contantine works very well. Here is a clear case of a "tainted" hero who is battling his way back from corruption, but for all the wrong reasons. He will need to come to grips with this and do a fair bit of soul-searching (and battling evil) before realizing where he went wrong. I particularly like the fact that the so-called good guys (angels) don't have any sympathy for JC as they view him as a screw-up, while the baddies smile and wink at him any chance they get. Nobody loves him. It's great.
Rent it, enjoy it.
(1 out of 5)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
The title describes the experience to a T. The dark forces of Hollywood scheduling doomed this weak offering before Wes Craven’s notoriously bad directing could ruin it. Half of the movie had to be re-shot with different actors, due to many people dropping out. Sadly, I can’t blame them. In theory, this is a movie about werewolves. In reality, this is an exercise in insulting the intelligence of the audience. Ricci plays a Hollywood professional, who lives with her geeky teenaged brother, and moons after a mysterious heart-throb who inexplicably keeps his distance from her. Ricci and her brother encounter a werewolf after a traffic accident – and from there you can almost write the script yourself. To call the characters predictable is to denigrate the term. In fact, the movie bears a stunning similarity to an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (apart from the part about being good, Wes didn’t bother copying that part).
There are a few sequences where the heroes of our terrible tale grow to enjoy the power that is the Curse. I’m actually disappointed that this film didn’t explore the darker side of this common teenaged fantasy. I think it would have been much more stimulating to see what happens when an emotionally unstable teenager gains the power and bloodlust of an unstoppable killer. It might have been nice to see why lycanthropy is called a curse, rather than portray it as a means of beating up a guy you hate and scoring with his girl. In addition to being hackneyed, predictable, and boring, Cursed features what must be the most pathetically miscast villain of all time. I assure you, there has never been a less frightening werewolf ever cast.
In summary, beware the curse! Avoid at all costs.
(4.5 out of 5)
Alex “Ail” Miranda
This is Hammer’s first film dedicated to Mary Shelley’s work Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. I liked this film from beginning to end, and in fact there are several strong points in it. The most striking one is the performance of both Peter Cushing and Robert Urquhart, respectively Baron Frankenstein and Paul Krempe. The film is almost all centered on these too and they play their characters admirably, especially Peter Cushing.
Cushing spares no effort to show us that his Baron is not entirely good. He never thinks he’s doing evil or even any wrong in pursuing his forbidden research, but at the same time, we see he’s impolite, does not yield at all to social niceties or obligations. In fact, nothing is more important than his work, not even his bride, whom he leaves for it on their wedding night, nor even his word, which he gives to his maid promising to marry with her and then breaks laughing in her face. This is all gradually built through the movie, so that we understand the contrast between him and the righteous Paul Krempe.
This is necessary for the real essence of the film, and Shelley’s story, which is the ethical consequences of research, the boundaries that man must not cross in his study. The moral debate raised by the book is very well carried on by the two scientists and that is another very strong point in the film and in fact what makes it work. The opposition between the two is very well made. The growing obsession of Victor Frankenstein is perfectly portrayed, and even the danger to which he exposes himself and which he ignores for sake of his work.
The ease with which he goes shopping for body parts, or stealing a body, the naturality with which he sees those actions even make us viewers, for moments, think they are perfectly innocuous, but Paul Krempe brings us back to reality and shows the horror of what Frankenstein is doing. But Krempe is not perfect either. He believes Frankenstein when he accuses him of having damaged the brain used in the creature, and that he, Paul, is responsible for its viciousness.
*Spoiler* And in the final scene, Paul lies so that Victor is killed by murder (of his maid), but we get the feeling that Paul did this so that he could marry Victor’s cousin and on top of it inherit the Frankenstein manor. Of course Paul may have done this out of justice, but the possibility casts a very human shadow on the otherwise morally correct Paul Krempe. *End of Spoiler*
In the end, a very good film and a must to see. If a negative aspect can be pointed at is the limited action of the creature which seems more childish and defenseless than dangerous, but on the other hand, the horror should indeed come from the fact that it is alive and made from dead body parts, not that it is dangerous for people. Also, it shows that the film is really a B-series. With some more budget, it could have shown something more of the castle, some more of the surroundings. As it is, at times the film feels cramped and with not much else going on around the castle.
(5 out of 5)
Samael Hands of Stone
Edmond Rostand's masterpiece comes alive in this 1990 adaptation, starring the magnificent Gerard Depardieu as the 15th Century warrior-poet Cyrano, who's talent with sword is equally as mighty as his skill with the pen. CdB tells the tragic-yet-action-packed story of a man who's flair and popularity are matched by the stoutness of his heart and the length of his enormous nose.
Hero to the common folk but reviled by spineless nobility for his impudence, Cyrano meets his match in the shape of his beautiful cousin Roxanne whom he loves more deeply than life itself. Despite Cyrano's courage in the face any adversity, he is terrified by the prospect of being rejected based on his "hideous" appearance, and dares only to admire her from afar. Along comes dashing and beautiful Christian, a new recruit in Cyrano's regiment of the King's men, and the object of Roxanne's newly discovered infatuation. Cyrano's heart is broken as he sees that all hope for him is lost, but he nevertheless sets out to befriend and protect the handsome youth out of compassion and character. Cyrano soon learns the ironic truth; Christian is beautiful on the outside but he has no gift for poetry or romance.
Seeing a chance to prove his skill, Cyrano proposes to become Christian's "soul" and to help him win Roxanne's heart. From here they embark on an adventure that will take them from cobbled streets to torn battlefields, where the Spaniard legions await to invade French borders. It's an epic story of love and regret that you will not soon forget.
Cyrano de Bergerac is an absolute thrill ride, from the intelligent and witty poetry-verse-laden dialogue to the masterful swordplay and set-design. While you'll get the gist of the movie in any language, Cdb really only comes through in its mother tongue, where Rostand's soulful, razor-sharp humor and poignant human tragedy collide into pure delight. From a Ravenloft perspective, you pretty much have everything that you need here to visualize the domain of Dementlieu (or Kartakas) and its inhabitants. You also find in the Cyrano character a rare and brilliant approach to making a Caliban that can function in a culturally-elevated realm. This is a must-see.
(Four out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Wandering aimlessly through my local video store, I happened to come upon a strange newcomer to the shelves: Deathwatch. I had never heard of it before, and it was a foreign film so I figured it was a 50:50 chance of being work the $5 rental fee. Little did I realize that I would stumble upon the most Ravenloftian film imaginable!
The story begins in that wonderful time we call the Great War. A unit of British soldiers goes over the top in a classic charge into the jaws of death. Suddenly, the bloodshed of the battle is interrupted by a mysterious cloud of mist. As it sweeps the soldiers, they discover themselves in a strange unfamiliar spot of no-mans land. Eventually they get the drop on some terrified Germans take refuge in a captured trench. All too quickly their luck runs out; they are cut off from the rest of the army and realize that they are not alone. Trapped in the muddy maze, surrounded by half-buried dead, they are stalked by an unseen assassin. One by one the soldiers must face their greatest fears, their own crazed comrades and a killer who can’t be killed. When war makes men into monsters, how can the innocent survive?
Deathwatch is more than a typical monster movie; it combines the visceral grisliness of World War I with surreal mental mind-games. This psychological thriller will tease your brain even as you gag on the gruesome surroundings. Though the use of gore is well done (by no means is this a slasher film!), it is clear that this is no movie for the squeamish. Trust me; once you see this movie, you’ll never wear a blanket again!
The film is an excellent resource for a budding Ravenloft fan. The presence of the mist that transports the characters is a dead give away, but moreover, the movie presents a great deal of features common to a good Ravenloft game. The subtle presence of the supernatural is excellently executed and the use of terror tactics is well balanced against the horrific gore. The characters are unique and well defined, each of whom struggle against their own inner demons. Indeed, watching the film one can almost see where the “players” have failed madness checks and power checks. In truth, as the author for the Gothic Earth Great War project, this movie strikes a major cord with me. Still, the scenario could easily be applied to soldiers in Ravenloft, especially in one of Falkenovia's infamous invasions.
In summation, this movie gets four bayonets! Anyone who wants to play in a Great War setting is hereby ordered to rent this movie. Failure to comply will result in a court marshal!
(Five out of Five Stars)
Downfall tells the tale of the last days of Adolf Hitler's reign at the head of the Third Reich in 1945. Hitler and his top brass are now surrounded and holed up in their elaborate bunker in the heart of Germany, trying to cope with the shell shock of defeat after having conquered Europe in a matter of years. His men are nervous, distraught, and begin to exhibit signs of lunacy in their despair. Berlin is on fire, being pounded to smithereens by the Allied assault, while Germans fight tooth and nail for every acre of soil (in vain). Meanwhile their esteemed Fuhrer is slipping further and further into madness brought on by equal parts megalomania and Parkinson's Disease. He barks at his lieutenants, rages uncontrollably and issues orders to move troops that no longer exist. He has reached the breaking point, as the sordid state of Germany grimly echoes Hitler's downfall through its imminent collapse.
We all know how it ends, but it is the "journey into the abyss" that makes Downfall a masterpiece of acting and psychological drama. Every moment of this 2.5 hour film is a spellbinding case-study on the inner-workings of a mad dictator and his crumbling empire. A peerless look at the systematic degradation of sanity and the power of fear and ignorance.
Downfall works on so many levels in terms of Ravenloft-relevancy that is hard to choose a starting point. The parallels with Domain Lords like Vlad Drakov and Azalin Rex are impossible to ignore. The setting, while not Ravenloft-appropriate is nevertheless easily transplanted to any location that lives under iron-fisted rule and dictatorship (Nidala, Ghenna, Invidia, etc.). The behaviors and reactions of the supporting characters around the power-hungry Hitler are also a perfect example of the inner-workings of an "evil empire", and perfectly illustrate the power-struggles that will inevitably occur when a government is destabilized (like rats in a sinking ship).
Highly recommended for any player/DM wanting to get into the head of a fallen overlord and the chaos that ensues from their maddening rise and fall from power. A must-see.
(Four out of Five stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Evil Dead is a legend amongst horror buffs; known far and wide for its gruesome splatter-horror. This blood splattered flick spawned a trilogy of terror and launched the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Though it is less popular than its sequels, Evil Dead is easily the scariest of the series. Evil Dead combines sickening special effects with a frantic pacing and nail-biting tension.
Our fearsome flick begins in the deep woods of Tennessee where five college students are vacationing in an abandoned cabin. The group stumbles upon an old tape recoding of the cabin's former resident reciting a demonic summoning. With no further ado, a terrible presence descends upon the cabin and begins possessing the five friends, transforming them into hideous undead abominations. Blood and slime pours like rain as the survivors butcher their former friends.
Evil Dead is a great situation story and makes a good example for a good horror adventure. The frequent violence makes this film easily adaptable for a quick adventure or side quest. This film holds a place of honor on my shelf and I recommend it to anyone in need of a quick encounter or just a good horror flick.
(Five out of Five stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Despite the title, this sultan of splatter is a closer to a remake of the first movie. In this film, Raimi ratchets up the gore and the weirdness; creating a strange slapstick horror. Bruce Campbell returns as the hero Ash, as he takes his girlfriend up to a familiar cabin. It doesn't take long for our hapless heroes to unleash the Candarian Demons and a wave of madness and murder.
The cast is of this film is expanded from the first, and includes a new assortment of hideous horrors, including a deranged severed hand. The film boasts a bigger budget but still shows the same low tech effects that gave the first movie its charm. All and all, its a superior telling of the same basic tale as the first.
Like the first flick, Evil Dead II is a great inspiration to Dungeon Masters. If viewed as an adventure, this film has a wider assortment of characters, more encounters and a bigger climax. The monsters come in a bigger variety as well.
Evil Dead II in one word.
(Three out of five stars)
Wiccy of the Fraternity (retired)
It all begins with a cornea transplant on a young woman who's been blind since the age of two. The operation goes very well and she she lays in bed each night - continuing to recover both her health and vision - strange dark visitors are seen coming and going. Investigating these, she happens upon more odd behaviour among some quite strange and elusive patients. Having recovered fully, she is allowed to go home, but it kept under evaluation. As the days and weeks pass, she finds herself encountering spirits of the deceased, many of these scenes are exceedingly creepy (though the earlier scene in the hospital never fails to impress me). Phantoms in elevators and at bus stops to name a few (the latter is returned to in the sequels, the former modified for one of them).
However, while seeing all of these, the mystery and her horror deepens. How is she able to see these things? Where did her corneas come from? What the hell are those black shadow things that appear right before people are to die?
The movie is very creepy, so it may not be all those that only enjoy teen horrors and slashers, but it is very much worth a viewing at least once (if you've not seen it already). The pacing is nicely kept and the writing/directing is some of the best I have seen in a asian horror (purpassed only by Ring ) - Birthday). However, despite being so great, it is let down by the end. Mostly because it ends up being corny. A nice note is that this is based on a true story, the same one The Sixth Sense was based on several years earlier.
(Two out of five stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
From Dusk till Dawn takes us from night to day; or rather, it takes us through two movies both which are as different as night and day. Our story begins as an ultra-violent suspense flick, as George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino hack their way through the harsh American desert to the land of freedom, Mexico. Clooney plays a smooth criminal, and Quentin Tarantino is a psychopath, oops, I mean, he plays a psychopath. The two have good chemistry, and their roles shine briefly, as the older brother Clooney is forced to take responsibility for his loyal but deranged sibling.
The tension grows when the two killers kidnap a family and force them to smuggle them across the border, to a Mexican Sodom and Gomorrah. Whilst taking in the lust and debauchery around them, our dysfunctional family is beset by vampires. With a few weapons, and a handful of bikers, they must fight for survival against the hordes of bloodsuckers. I wanted very much to like this movie, but as I sat helplessly, this film turned from good to pure evil. The best villains in the movie, Hyek and Tarantino, die within the space of five minutes of each other, and leave us with forty minutes to go.
As soon as the vampires come out, the movie spirals out of control. Campiness reigns in the chaos, as characters and villains alike act like retarded gerbils. We’re treated to scenes where the characters are so enthralled by a pointless Vietnam story, that they don’t see a vampire biting into the story-teller. At other times, vampires run around aimlessly in the background, even as they are being slaughtered with super-soakers.
Tom Savini plays a cameo, and Cheech Marin plays a record three roles in this movie. Naturally, were not expected to notice, because all Mexicans look alike, right? This film ends with a rather interesting shot, which probably would have been better used closer to the beginning. Sadly, all it does is remind you that the movie could have been better. Like a victim of a vampire, this film goes from good to bad. I might recommend it if you desperate for a movie, but don’t expect it to keep you entertained from dusk till dawn.
The Fog (1980)
(Five out of five stars)
As the tiny coastal town of Antonio Bay prepares for its 100th anniversary celebration, the dark secret of its founding comes back to haunt it. A strangely luminescent fog rolls in from the ocean, carrying with it the angry, murderous ghosts of a ship the townsfolk caused to run around in 1880, and from which they stole the gold they used to start the town. As the ghosts go on their murderous rampage, a nighttime DJ (Barbeau) guides from a vantage point high above the town guides direct ancestors of the town's original founders (Atkins and Leigh)--and main targets of the ghosts' wrath--away from the advancing fog to the old church. Here, together with the town's priest (Holbrook), they must quickly find a way to appease the angry spirits, or die a horrible death.
"The Fog" is near-perfect ghost movie. It establishes the isolated setting carefully, it introduces us to the cast of characters, it builds tension slowly, gives us a good reason for why the ghosts are angry and why they've chosen this particular moment to return and claim revenge, and it gives us several poetic reasons for why the current citizens of the town deserve to suffer the wrath for something that happened a century ago.
From a technical point of view, Carpenter deploys every item in his filmmaking arsenal with perfect precision and timing. Imagery, special effects, sound effects, and the musical score all mesh with great effect, lifting the performances by the excellent cast to heights of excellence virtually never seen in horror movies. Also, the film proves time and again that the scariest films embody the adage "less is more" in every way. The fact that the monsters and the kills are nearly always shrouded in the fog makes them even more horrendous, because the imagination fills in the details.
"The Fog" deserves a place among the all-time horror movie greats, and it is ten times the film that the 2005 remake was.
(Four out of Five Stars)
Andrew "Alhoon" Pavlides
I watched the original film, the black and white one. It is the first Frankenstein I watched. Well, It was a great film! While it didn't have stunning CG, it was captivating. The mood was overwhelming.
The movie (while not a splatter) was subtly horrifying. It reeked of perversity of a noble idea, hubris and the dire results. It won me over as early as in the first scene where we watch Frankenstein and his assistant watch from the distance a funeral. We watch people sad, mourning, etc and the Doctor and his assistant practically rubbing their hands over the death of a young man. They reminded me of Vultures feeding on human misery.
Then when they just dig out the dead man, it seems (actually it screams) WRONG! I have seen countless scenes with grave robbing, or even animating dead as zombies and NONE seemed as wrong and perverse as this one. I don't know how they accomplished this.
The rest goes on in this tone, Frankenstein showing extreme obsession and hubris, delving into madness, the wrongness radiating from the monster, etc. I don't know how or even WHY this particular movie motivated me and entranced me so, when I have seen many similar movies.
My only grippe is that many characters finally live, reducing the tragedy of the original. It has a good ending.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970)
(Three out of Five Stars)
This could have been a five-star entry into Hammer's Frankenstein series--one which I consider superior to the one produced by Universal. But, unfortunately, the portrayal of the central character, Baron Frankenstein, is off when compared to other entries in the series.
Take for example the Frankenstein character in the series' high-points like "Curse of Frankenstein" and "Frankenstein Created Woman." In those films, there was something twistedly heroic about Frankenstein... one almost finds oneself hoping he'll succeed. But here, he is just a vicious killer, a brutal rapist, a creature with no redeeming qualities save for the inherent charm of Peter Cushing, the actor who portrays him.
The tale has Frankenstein blackmail a crooked doctor at a local asylum into giving him access to a mad scientist so Frankenstein can cure the madness through brain surgery. The corruption of Frankenstein and the crooked doctor spread to engulf the doctor's otherwise innocent fiancé. On the very night of Frankenstein's seeming triumph, everyone ends up paying for their crimes, including Frankenstein himself.
The "morality play" aspect of this film works extremely well. What doesn't work is Frankenstein's completely monstrous nature. And it's made worse by the brutal rape he visits upon Veronica Carlson (who gives what is probably her best performance in this film). It's a shame really that the central character should be so off in the way he was written.
By the way, it's worth nothing that the rape scene I've mentioned several times (because it offends me and really has no place in the film) was a late addition insisted upon by the film's producer. Cushing, Carlson, and director Terrance Fisher all were opposed to the scene.
The Gorgon (1964)
(Four out of Five Stars)
I just finished watching one of my all-time favorite films. I was reminded of how PERFECT a Ravenloft scenario the film would make, so I thought I'd post a review here. (Sadly, it may not be easy to get a hold of, as a quick check at Amazon.com revealed that it's currently out of print. Still, here's the review....)
"The Gorgon" is a movie Ravenloft fans MUST see. In fact, if there's any movie that captures the feel of what a good Ravenloft adventure should be--a mix or drama, horror, romance, and fantasy-- it's "The Gorgon"! Although forty years old now, it still packs chills and it holds up nicely against modern movies. If an abomination like "Van Helsing" has been more like "The Gorgon," the former may actually have been worth seeing.
"The Gorgon" is an interesting mixture of elements, as the spirit of the sole surviving gorgon sisters of Greek legend rises again to plague a Balkan village at the dawn of the 20th century. Peter Cushing is featured prominently as the village doctor who is trying to cover up the fact that villagers are being turned to stone under every full moon for mysterious (and possibly sinister) reasons. Christopher Lee and Richard Pasco play scholars devoted to ending the Gorgon's reign of terror. Barbara Shelley is also featured as Cushing's assistant and Pasco's love interest.
"The Gorgan" contains a number of truly chilling moments, with lighting, camera work, and performances by all featured actors being of top quality for Hammer efforts. What's more, the script features a couple of twists and turns, so that the viewer is kept guessing as to who is actually host to the gorgon's spirit until it is revealed. (The same can not be said of a similar, and almost as good film, "The Reptile." It suffers from the all-too-typical 'only one obvious suspect' problem that movies of this type suffer from... but that is not the case here!) Yes, there are some plot threads left dangling, and the film loses a little bit of steam toward the end, but the final confrontation between Cushing, Pasco, Lee, and the Gorgon is one of the most dramatic endings to a Hammer film, period!
"The Gorgon" is one of the most underrated horror flicks from Hammer, and I'm shocked that it hasn't come out on DVD yet, given Christopher Lee's return to prominence in the recent "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" films. After all, they've released the absolute WORST of the Fu Manchu film he did, so why not one of his best films overall? In fact, it is a great disappointment to me that no one has even bothered to keep in print on VHS.
(Two out of Five Stars)
Jane (Van Devere) is recovering from a nervous breakdown when she decides to spend the summer in a remote house she just inherited from her mother. Once there, she finds the townsfolk less than friendly, with the handsome and mysteriously alluring Tom Sullivan (Gautreaux) being the one exception. Worse, whenever Jane travels the road into town, she is pursued by a massive hearse that no one but she can see... and when its driver starts appearing in the house, it's clear that something strange and possibly supernatural is going on. Or is Jane merely coming unglued?
The flaws with "The Hearse" are many, but two major ones is that the script establishes a level of creepy tension early on and stays there instead of building; and the fact that Trish Van Devere is the only decent performer in the film. She out-acts everyone, partially due to script issues (Jospeh Cotton has nothing to do other than be an obnoxious old man, for example) but also because most of the other "actors" show any acting ability.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the film is the characterization of the sullen citizens of Blackburn town. It's a requirement of a gothic thriller that our mentally troubled protagonist be isolated from any possible help, but "The Hearse takes it a step too far, particuarly in its characterization of the town's sheriff. Even the most corrupt cop wouldn't behave the way he's shown as behaving. Finally, the film's ambiguous non-ending leave the viewer wondering, "Hey, shouldn't there be at least three more minutes before those credits start to roll?"
The film does have some technical highpoints, though. The multitude of night scenes are genuine night scenes--no lame night-for-day blue camera filters here!--and they are expertly lit. (There are some issues with the climactic hearse chase scene, but otherwise the crew does a bang-up job.) Also, the sequence where the hearse driver appears in Jane's house for the first time is a genuine shock and fright. It is rare that I am surprised anymore by a "Boo!" sort-of scare in a film, but this one got me good.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of these scares to sustain the movie, and its flaws outweighs its strong points to the point that it slips to the very low end of average, teetering on the brink between Five and Four Tomatoes. (If not for Van Deveres performance and the excellent sequence with the hearse driver inside the house, "The Hearse" would be a solid Four.)
The Hidden (1987)
(Five out of Five Stars)
There's a serial killer/robber on the loose... he loves fast cars, loud music, and over-the-top violence. A homicide detective (Michael Nouri) manages to end the madman's killing spree, but then ANOTHER equally violent crook pops up. A young, soft-spoken FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) appears and reveals that he has been tracking these criminals, claiming that they change identities frequently. The two team up to end the mayhem once and for all.
The killer in the film is actually a disgusting alien criminal that leaps from body to body, and MacLachlan is actually ANOTHER alien who likewise leaps from body to body, but he is a cop, or at the very least a vigilante, who has been tracking the murderous creature across space for many years. 'The Hidden' is the tale of their final confrontation.
The above paragraph does not spoil the film--at this late date in the history of sci-fi/action films, it's exactly the sort of thing that we've come to expect from this sort of film. However, 'The Hidden' delivers all the standard elements with far more skill, grace, and craftsmanship. The performances delivered by the actors are top-notch, the script is tight and the dialogue is sharp and well-done, and the use of all the standard sci-fi and action film elements are extremely well-executed. Even the car chases and other action scenes--which often emerge as the weakest points of movies featuring this mix of elements and set in the modern day--are top-notch and better than several more well-known films of this type. What's more, the scenes and exchanges intended to be funny actually are funny, something else many films of this kind fail to pull off.
Another fantastic aspect of this movie is that the main characters--and even a couple of the minor ones--emerge as fully realized personalities that the viewer can't help but care about. Nouri's tough-as-nails homicide detective with a tranquil home life, and MacLachlan's fish-out-water pretend FBI agent with a tragic past make both a good team as well as an interesting contract (both in the action and humorous portions of the film) and the friendship that develops between them is highly believable. And it makes the movie's denoument both creepy and touching at the same time.
I think this is a film that any lover of sci-fi and/or action movies MUST see.
To read more reviews of 'The Hidden,' or to purchase it on DVD from Amazon.com, here.
(Zero out of Five Stars)
Wiccy of the Franternity (retired)
It's Halloween in modern Sleepy Hollow and the Halloween tour is about to happen, but what's this? A headless corpse! Surely the Headless Horseman can't be back from the grave... yes, it seems he can be and he is. While I normally enjoy cheap horror, this one just just boring. Interchangeable characters, a weak plot and nothing to really keep you interested. Not even the Horseman kills that many people and when he does the deaths are predictable and are seen a long way coming. The 2 you think will decide will survive, do, it's even more obvious than those horrors form the 1980's.
As for the storyline, it was something about one of the kids being the descendant of Icabod Crane, who did not really disappear, he just changed his name or something.
In all a great disappointment so avoid it unless its on TV and don't have to waste money on it.
Horror of Dracula (1957)
(Five out of Five Stars)
First, like pretty much any "adaptation" of Bram Stoker's novel to the screen, this film has little to do with Stoker's "Dracula" novel. It DOES have more in common with it than either the famous Bela Lugosi version or the abominable, offensively titled "Bram Stoker's Dracula" with Gary Oldman.
Others have already mentioned that this film is a piece of cinematic history... and 45 years after its release, it remains an exciting item to pop in the VCR or DVD player when you're looking for a chilling, adventuresome diversion.
"The Horror of Dracula" starts out looking like a straight adaptation, but ten minutes in, it takes a hard left when its revealed that Jonathan Harker has come to Castle Dracula not as a hapless victim but as an agent of vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing and that Harker is fully aware of Dracula's true nature. But it all works, because when Van Helsing appears on screen (played by the late, great Peter Cushing), we get a different interpretation of him than offered in Stoker's novel, and a different spin on vampirism as well. The film then proceeds to present Dracula claiming Mina and Lucy as victims, like in the novel, but for a different reason--revenge for Harker and Van Helsing being pains in the rear. In the end, the Count is brought low by his own schemes AND a rather neat little bit of action by Cushing/Van Helsing.
What is particularly remarkable about this film is that, although it strays far from Stoker's story, Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula (as well as the way he is handled in the script) is far truer to Stoker and the overall tone of the novel than any other version. He's not the incongruously eveningwear-sporting-but-decaying-castle-dwelling Lugosi, nor is he the pathetic whiner that Oldman portrayed... no, the Lee Dracula is a blood-thirsty monster who preys on the life and emotions of the living. He is a strange and alien fearsome outsider, just as Stoker wrote him.
Horror Express (1972)
(Three out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Originally a Spanish film titled Pánico en el Transiberiano, Horror Express bombed in Spain, but was well received elsewhere. Christopher Lee plays a slightly amoral scientist transporting the frozen corpse of a primitive ape-man on a train through Russia, while Peter Cushing plays a nosy doctor who's attempts to examine the body instigate terror. The story follows their attempt to track down the murderous ape-man as it hacks its way through the passengers on the train. Telly Savalas (TV's Kojak, Dirty Dozen's Maggot) appears as a sadistic Cossack officer sent to investigate the murders. Savalas chews the scenery pretty well, especially with his animosity towards Lee Cushing (I guess all his time as Blowfeld taught him to hate Brits).
The movie is a bit slow in some places, and the idea that you can pull slides of dinosaurs out of the eyeballs of dead people is just a little absurd. However, the film does a good job of replicating the claustrophobic terror and paranoia. Some of the themes used in this movie even hark back to the classic story "Who Goes There", and its modern incarnation, "John Carpenter's: The Thing". The movie is pretty gory for the time, what with eyeballs gushing blood and heads being opened up with hacksaws.
(One flopping fish out of five)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
With all the fervor over unsafe asian imports, I think it’s appropriate to talk about a different toxic trade good. Be warned: Though it has a low lead content, consumption will definitely cause permanent brain damage.
The plot begins with the name, The Host, a poke at a political agenda for the film maker. Yes, this is a film with a message; a message delivered by a flopping fish monster. Classy. Americans are portrayed as a monolithic, evil entity, but in the interest of fairness, many of the Koreans are portrayed as witless clowns. The story follows a bumbling food vendor as he and his family attempt to rescue his daughter from the monster. The monster is claimed to spread some sort of virus, so there's supposedly a lot of panic, even though attempts at containing the outbreak are laughable.
Example: In one scene the authorities drag a character into an airtight body bag, supposedly to contain the disease. In the very next scene he's in the general populous. In a scene thereafter, he's in a plastic bubble.
The monster itself is well animated, though that in of itself takes away its entire mystique. What's more, the creature doesn't seem particularly dangerous. On the zoological devastation scale, we're talking a "Hippo with a bowel obstruction", at best. Indeed, the creature spends a quarter of its time on camera collapsing from wounds. For that job, the could have just stuck with a guy in a rubber suit.
There are precious few saving graces to this flick. Some of the B characters show some surprisingly good sense. I actually cheered when the "drunk brother" stands over the unconscious monster and shouts "Make sure its dead!" before pumping a few shells into the corpse.
Critics have been quoted as saying that the Host is the greatest horror film since Jaws, which is ironic since Jaws was a great film for its moments of subtlety, whereas the Host is awful and blatant. The film is saddled with pitiful direction; actors emote so much that one cannot possibly take them seriously, except of course for the evil Americans, who are emotionless . One can easily imagine a Harold Zoid-esque director behind the camera shouting:
"You three, the girl is dead, start crying. Now fall down and writhe in grief. Writhe more. MORE! And, you, fall down in the background. Just because they're grieving for a little dead girl, doesn't mean we can't do comedy in the background."
The commercial success of this film seems to be a result of the outbreak cosmopolitan tastes of film go-ers. This is another slice of irony pie, since its clear that had the director watched even one horror movie from the west, he could have avoided making most of the mistakes that marred this film.
From the gamer’s perspective, this movie has something to offer. Most of the action is centered on a small group of people with diverse talents, as they search through subterranean tunnels for a monster to slay. Sadly, they make the classic "Lord of the Rings" mistake and split the party. Even worse, they let the character with the lowest Int score hold the only loaded gun. The results are a lesson to us all.
The Host is a mutant of a film, neither comedy nor horror. Many films have made that combination work but this one flops lifelessly on the floor. I recommend shoving it in a jar of formaldehyde and showing it to hicks for two bits a gander.
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
(Three out of Five Stars)
If you like your horror flicks with a certain level of well-done special effects gore but aren't terribly concerned about whether the story hangs together well, then this is a film for you.
One part haunted house movie, one part slasher flick, and with a dash of mad science thrown in out of left field for good measure, "The House by the Cemetary" exhibits all the strength and weaknesses that were the hallmarks of Italian horror movie makers in the Seventies and Eighties. The gore is appropriately disgusting--although the highmark in this film is definitely the maggot-infested insides of the film's monster!--the actors are so-so, but there are characters who behave inconsistently or incomprehensibly and the script writers seem more concerned with getting from plot contrivance to plot contrivance, or providing excuses for the special effects crew to go to work than they are with providing a story that hands together sensibly by the time the End Credits roll.
The basic storyline involves a researcher who moves with his family to Boston to complete the work started by a colleague who committed suicide. Through a flurry of coincidences (or Fate, or maybe the researcher's specific manipulation, take your pick), they end up in a creepy house that is tied to the subject of the research. Ghosts, unkillable bats, and weird murders then drive the young family toward doom.
If you go into watching this movie knowing what to expect, you'll find the time well spent. While I am frustrated with the unclear reasons for the behaviour of the creepy babysitter and other continuity and story elements that strike false notes even if you're not thinking too hard while watching, it's nothing worse than what is to be expected in a movie from this vintage and "vineyard."
(Two out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
You know, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. And by the time the movie ends, you’ll know why. The House on Haunted Hill begins with a wonderful premise – a millionaire hosts a party inside of a haunted house. Price, the millionaire, hates his wife, and may be trying to kill her, and she in turn hates, and may be trying to murder, him. Sadly, some extremely dated ideas mar this film.
We’re treated to the obligatory good ol’ American soldier, and his hapless, hysterical woman friend. Seeing the contrast between these two icons, you’ll feel an overwhelming desire to repeal those old voting laws and put the glass ceiling back up before some screwball dame ruins everything. As well, we’re forced to watch none other than Captain Kirk’s lawyer, Elisha Cook jr. play a pathetic drunk (oh, he’s not so bad a drunk as he is a terrible actor). This character was obviously inserted to be ominous – he gives a variety of rants about the evil spirits. Sadly, he just couldn’t pull it off. I guess he was handicapped by the stupidity of the situation – a man so terrified of the ghosts that he is sure that they will all die – yet not so terrified as to go into the house in the first place. I spent the whole film hoping he would get the tar beat out of him.
In summary, this is an old, classic film with Vincent Price in it. That’s about the only reason to look at it.
(2 out of 5)
Like their namesake, vampire movies always come back from the dead. Witness as, for the third time, the book "I am Legend" is reborn into a movie. And like the vampire, this film is a curse upon mankind.
A little backstory on this phenomenon: I am Legend was first made into a movie called "The Last Man on Earth", staring none other than Vincent Price. Decades latter, Hollywood would produce a different interpretation, The Omegea Man, staring Moses himself, Charleton Heston. As we have come to learn, there is nothing new under the sun, if by "New" we mean original, and by "sun" we mean Hollywood. Even still, La-la-land has sunk to a new low by making a remake of a remake of a remake.
"I am Legend" takes place in the near future, where a potential cure for cancer has mutated into virus that transforms victims into vampires. Will Smith is a survivor in New York, haunted by the memory of his lost family, and still obscessed with the search for a cure to vampirism.
To his credit, Smith plays the role well, showing the crushing lonliness that haunts this last man on earth, as well as the bitter rage as he fights the vampires who have taken so much from him. Sadly, the film abandonds this one-man war against fate, and takes the film down a completly different path.
Though Smith played a believable, human survivor, his character lacked the fun of Heston's Omega Man. I presumes that Charleton Heston enjoyed making his movie so much that he spends his weekends shooting albinos in black robes.
Like its painfully dated predacessors, I am Legend is a product of its time. New York is haunted by legions of CGI monsters, which detacts terribly from the ambiance. This film is anoter painful reminder of the laziness that plagues of today's filmmakers. All the pixles in the world still cannot conjure the same dread that is elicited by a black robe and a little pancake-makeup.
As well, the movie tries too hard to manufacture a happy ending. It seemed almost as if the writers were ripping of "Signs" to force about some contrived "Finds God" angle.
Let's hope that Hollywood will finally put the stake into this franchise and let it rest in peace.
(5 out of 5)
Set in just post-WWI Austro-Hungary, The Illusionist tells the haunting tale of master magician and mesmerist Eisenheim (Norton), who becomes the most talked about performer in the country after a series of astonishing live performances. His skill, mastery and charisma are so great that he catches the attention of the Crown Prince Leopold (R. Sewel) himself, who demands a demonstration of Eisenheim's illusions in the privacy of his royal estate. Unbeknownst to the Prince, Eisenheim has no real inclination to comply with the upopular monarch's request until he makes a stunning discovery; the Prince's soon-to-be fiance is none other than Eisenheim's childhood sweetheart, the stunning Austrian Dutchess Sophie. Bent on rekindling their passionate connection, Eisenheim visits the royal estate, where he manages to amaze his guests, and get on the Prince's bad side all in masterful stroke. Prince Leopold, recognizing Eisenheim as threat dispatches his right-hand man, one Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), with whom the illusionist begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Uhl at once admires Eisenheim for his skill as a magician, and sympathizes with his situation, but having become known as a man who can get the job done, he sees no alternative but to see to Eisenheim's undoing. What ensues is an intricate and spellbinding adventure into the world of the occult arts and murder that will decided the fate of the entire nation.
While the setting might be a little more appropriate for a MotRD campaign, The Illusionist can easily be transplanted into any high-society Domain in Ravenloft, and brought to life. The strongest elements in this movie have to be the characters who are phenomenally written and acted with true thespian know-how. Eisenheim is everything a Ravenloft illusionist should be, dark, brooding, methodical, while Inspector Uhl (easliy the best character) can be lifted straight from the celluloid and molded into a phenomenal main-stay NPC. Prince Leopold is pure Darklord material, so much so that he had me and my friends spitting out our drinks in certain key scenes. Overall this is just another prime candidate for the Comprehensive Ravenloft Film Collection (coming soon from Jason Am(brus)! )
(2.5 out of Five Stars)
Alex “Ail” Miranda
Lust for a Vampire is the second in Hammer Studios’s trilogy inspired on Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla” from the early 70s. Having watched the other two movies first, I had not great expectations for this one. I knew the original story and could compare to it, and barring the first movie, The Vampire Lover, the movies little more in common with the book than the the character names and sometimes the region where the story unfolds.
“Lust for a Vampire” is an average movie. Midway into it, I actually thought it could be the best one of the three, but then it was completely spoiled by the ending.
* Spoiler Alert *
The main drawback in the film, for me, is the characters in the story. Just as in the first movie, we have three characters whose existence seems completely unexplained. In the opening scenes, we watch these three people perform a demonic ritual to bring back to life Carmilla Karnstein in her latest incarnation as Mircalla. We hear from a villager that the Karnstein return to life every 40 years, and that this is precisely the year. Why do these people keep to the ritual every 40 years is not explained. Why the villagers do nothing to prevent it except at the very end of the movie when a priest arrives is also hard to believe. But the worst part is that all these three servants are vampires themselves (revealed in the ending). But then we assume these have been alive for all this while, but the only one that seems to prey upon the people is Mircalla, which again makes no sense. I found it actually a drawback to the film that these should be vampires, taking a lot away from the story itself.
Another problem is the scene of Mircalla’s death. A huge rafter, slightly spiked, falls from the roof in flames and hits her in the chest. If such a huge log that smashes almost the whole of her breast could kill a vampire, I guess heroes in traditional stories wouldn’t need to have that many concerns to have perfect stakes to kill a vampire: anything large enough not to miss a target and with a rough point could impale and kill the vampire.
Another very weak point, for me, is that there is no actual hero in the film. The foreigner, Richard Lestrange, once again an Englishman, is the only candidate for that role, but he falls madly in love with Mircalla and despite all the evidence that she is a vampire he stubbornly and unreasonably decides to convince her that he is in love. He becomes drunk, abuses his station as teacher to get close to Mircalla, refuses to recognize her vampirehood and even tries to convince the whole village to save her. In the end, when she clearly reveals her fangs (even though he has already been bitten by her) he seems to finally gain repulse by the girl, but it is too late to be convincing. By then, the character is already totally unlikable and I had already called him all the names in the book.
* End of Spoilers *
Despite the above, there are some good reasons to watch this movie, mainly visual reasons. To start with, there is a scene in a graveyard where Mircalla comes to meet a teacher in the college where the film takes place that has a marvellous ambiance. The stark contrast of her white robe in the dark night with all the fog rising from the floor makes for a fantastic scene which I would not hesitate to show my players if I had a chance to use it. On top of it, the very graveyard is very well done, and Carmilla’s tomb convinces me completely. The ivy on the stone and the lettering are very good. Besides this, there is competent acting from some characters, namely the school mistress and the police inspector. Another eye-candy reason for male viewers to watch the film is that there are beautiful acctresses and the whole story unfolds in a college for girls with a great deal of exposed flesh.
A disturbing point in the film, in today’s age, is the implied morality in some scenes. There is a point where it is suggested that divorce is an evil thing and can actually lead to the suicide of the children. View this simply as a reflection of the times when the film was made.
All in all, the film is average, but its strengths are more in the sets and landscape than in the story itself. As such, I give it only 2.5 in 5 points possible.
(Four out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
From the depths of the indie film bin comes a quirky splatter-comedy: Murder Party. We are introduced to Chris, a lonely parking-meter attendant who chances upon an invitation to a Halloween bash. Armed with a homemade cardboard cosutume and some pumpkin bread, Chris sets out across the city in search of fun. Sadly, the party is an ingenious trap and our hapless hero falls into the clutches of the most horrible fiends of all... failed artists.
The depraved thrill-killers debate the most expressive means of murder, but drunk, high on cocain, and deathly allergic to raisens, our would-be murderers prove more dangerous to each other. Things get even more deadly when the groups mentor, Alexander, arrives with his dog and a Russian drug dealer.
Low on budget and high on gore, Muder Party is a delighful romp through the deranged modern art scene. With their insecurities, hang-ups, and heart-aches the characters are identifiable and hillarious. The action is absolutly brutal; between electric chainsaws, fireetinguishers and dogs on crank, no-one will leave the party unscathed.
Will Chris become a victim of pretentious art? Who will get the grant money? Will everyone get bored and go to Cisero's party? Invite yourself to this murder party, and find out.
(Five out of Five Stars)
Jason "Samael Hands of Stone" Am(brus)
Set in 1327 Italy, NotR tells the tale of Franciscan Brother William of Baskerville (Connery) and his novice Adso (Slater), who visit a remote abbey in the mountains where strange and eerie things are afoot. A mysterious silence reigns over the dozen monks that dwell there, following a bizarre case of suicide by one of their brethren. Brother William, a brilliant and attentive man (with Sherlock Holmes/Cadfael tendencies) immediately remarks a number of strange inconsistencies about the incident, and begins to suspect murder. Along with his wide-eyed novice, William of Baskerville embarks on a dark journey of intrigue and double-cross, as they discover the shocking truth behind an apparent conspiracy. Along their treacherous investigation they will cross paths with dangerous secrets, devil-dealing hunchbacks, ghastly murders and even face the wrath of the agents of the Inquisition, led by the merciless Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham).
What evil truly lurks behind the stone walls of the abbey, and will Brother William and Adso survive to see it through?
Name of The Rose is rife with Ravenloft material, and could quite possibly be the most atmospherically appropriate movie I could recommend to anyone searching for session-resource material. You've got everything from chillingly dark and complex characters, to a unique perspective on the politics of religion, to a perfect example of what evil branch of the Church of Ezra might look like. Bernardo Gui and the man behind the abbey conspiracy are just prime Darklord material. William of Baskerville on the other hand, is a completely new take on how to play an exciting monk character, without the traditional D&D Shaolin-type themes. Do yourselves a favor and check this movie out if you're even remotely interested in running a textured Ravenloft game.
(Four out of Five Stars)
When Janet, an emotionally unstable teenager (Linden) returns from boarding school to live in her Castle Hightowers, her ancestral home, she quickly decends into psychosis when the restless ghost of her mother seems to haunt the place.
"Nightmare" is a rarely seen gothic thriller from Hammer Films, a studio known mostly for its Frankenstein and Dracula films. This film is on par with the best of their monster movies, and is made even stronger by the fact that for the first half, it seems like a typical gothic thriller--with the standard real reason behind why the emotionally frail protagonist in the story is being haunted/going insane [hint: her guardian had a wife who died under mysterious circumstances, and he has a love for the finer things in life... and by saying this, I'm not spoiling the film!]--but just where other movies like this would be wrapping up, "Nightmare" takes a sudden, sharp turn into new and unpredictable territory.
If you've seen alot of movies of this type--like I have--it might be tempting to give up on this one after Janet's suicide attempt because it will feel like you've seen it all before and you know exactly where the movie's going... but stick with it. You won't be sorry.
(Three out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Most movies today follow simple, predictable formulas. Many of them can be summed up as, "Boring guy + Wild Girl = Romantic comedy", "Terrorists + Lone Cop = Thrilling Action", or the frequently used "Robbin Williams + Anything = Absolutle Garbage". Yet few are so frequently successful as that classic of the horror film "Zombies + Nazis = Awsome!".
Outpost takes us to present day Eastern Europe where international forces battle insurgants in the conflict-de-jour. Amidst the freewheeling chaos a mysterious man hires a squad of mercenaries to take him into an area to "survey minerals". The diverse soldiers of fortune makes their way to the site; (suprise, suprise!) an old World War II bunker complex. While their mysterious employer searches for some secret item, the team stubles upon a scene of terrible slaughter and a single, catatonic survivor. Before the team can escape, they are attacked by snipers lurking around the bunker. Forced to shelter within the complex, the mercenaries must fight to survive against the danger outside, and the terror in their midst.
Outpost is a by-the-numbers horror, with the requisit mix of action and scares. The story is unabitious and the special effects are extremly limited. Director Steve Barker uses classic camera and lighting tricks to supplement the scares. Cheasy CGI effects are completely abscent, making Outpost more enjoyable than a lot of recent horror films produced by Hollywood.
The pacing of the film is good, tension and terror are well developed, and the characters are multi-dimensional people. In short, Outpost is a film that does not disapoint.
Pactes des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) (2002)
(Four out of Five Stars)
Set in 1766, BotW explores a set of mysterious events that took place in actual recorded history in the French region of Gevaudan, involving a series of brutal murders and a secret plot to undermine the rule of King Louis XV. For two years the people have been living in terror of the infamous Beast of Gevaudan, a monstrous creature that strikes without warning, slaying men, women and children indiscriminately. The local nobility, exhausted by their unsuccessful attempts to hunt down and kill the Beast, plead the king to lend them his support. The king responds by sending the Chevalier Gregoire De Fronsac, a decorated veteran officer of the American colonial wars, and the a member of the king's royal naturalist court. The resourceful and gifted De Fronsac is seconded by his enigmatic Native American blood-brother, Mani, last survivor of a decimated Indian tribe, and a formidable warrior-shaman. The duo sets out to uncover the secret of the Beast, and the reasons behind its existence, and in the process stumble upon a unexpected web of secrets, politics and murder. Their adventure will take De Fronsac and Mani through a rollercoaster ride filled with court intrigue, a death-defying chases, visually-stunning combat, and even a peek at the inner-workings of a house of ill repute.
While not the ultimate Ravenloft movie, BotW is perhaps the most complete Ravenloft resource material film ever produced. This is the full package, complete with incredible genre cinematography (18th century), ravishing landscapes and locations, intricate and historically accurate costumes, accessories and weapons, and a haunting dramatic score that is a simple must-have in any self-respecting role-player's music collection. The screenplay is fresh and original, filled with classic French cinema caliber dialogue, good character development, and subtle period humor and wit. From a "Ravenloftian perspective", it's all there, the Dementlieu/Richemulot feel, the Borcan-style court intrigue, shades of Mordent, Barovia (Vistani-like gypsies), Valachan, swords. pistols and muskets, etc. The characters in the movie ooze with playability, and any Ravenloft enthusiast will find him/herself calling out the classes, skills and feats as they appear on screen. BotW also provides a great deal of inspiration for adventure-building and story-pacing, to say nothing of its applications for character development.
A must-see movie for any Ravenloft (RPG) fan.
PS: For best results, watch the DVD in French with English subtitles as the voice-over work is abysmal and actually brings down the movie with its poor quality.
(Five out of Five Stars)
There are very few movies I've seen more than once in the theatre. "Phantasm" is one of those. I saw it on the Big Screen in 1980 or so, and was SEVERELY creeped out by it. Then I went to see it again the next night... and I was creeped out again! To this day, it remains one of my favourite horror movies.
The story revolves around Mike (Baldwin), a kid who discovers something odd is happening at the local funeral home. He does some investigating and is soon swept up into a vortex of nightmares swirling around the mysterious undertaker known as the Tall Man (Scrimm). His older brother and the brother's best friend Reggie (Bannister) are also caught up in the unfolding events which become more and more like a nightmare.
Even some twenty-five years later, I am amazed at how frightening things that I might well laugh at in other flicks seems in "Phantasm."
The slow-motion shot of the Tall Man walking past Reggie working at his ice cream truck; the chittering robed servants of the Tall Man; the flying, skull-puncturing silver ball of death; the transforming severed body-parts... all of these still seem scary, even from my now-jaded perspective. Much of the film's power comes from its simple yet well-crafted electronic score and a masterful use of sound effects. The final moment of the film STILL makes me jump, even though I now it's coming, and much of the shock comes from the audio rather than the visual.
"Phantasm" is another one of those horror movies that prove that they just don't make 'em like this anymore.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
(Three out of Five Stars)
I can't remember liking a film directed by Roger Corman, so why did I waste my time on one of his 'classics'?
Because I still have very vivid memories of the film's climactic scenes from watching it as a young child in a hotel room; the man chained down as a massive axe swings back and forth and starts cutting into his stomach, the twisted man in black pulling the chain to lower it further... aaaiiiiieeee!
The last 15 or so minutes of the film match my youthful experiences, even through the jaded eyes of an adult who's watched waaaay too many B-movies. What's more, this is probably the BEST Corman film I've been exposed too. And the final shot of the film is very creepy!
Price's performance is fabulous here; the slide into madness of his character is actually believable, as is the terror on his face. The supporting cast also does a great job, although Barbara Steele isn't used to her fullest because they've redubbed an American actress over her. (I supposed someone said, "Gee.. her BROTHER sounds American, so she should too.") The sets and camera work, even the musical score also stand head and shoulders above other Corman films I've seen.
The three stars are, partly, because the film does show some of the usual Corman defects--pan shots that I imagine are supposed to be suspenseful but are just boring and lame exchanges between actors stating the obvious, but also because the video seems to have been taken from a flawed print; the color is off in a number of scenes.
Plunkett & Maclane (1999)
(3.5 out of Five Stars)
The last time you've seen these two actors (Carlyle and Miller), they were raising white-trash hell in the drug-crazy classic Trainspotting. This time however they have taken on the roles of a whole different breed of hell raisers, in the shape of a gentleman card shark, and a street-tough apothecary-turned highwayman in 18th century England. Through a series of unfortunate events, Plunkett and McLeane become partners in crime and set out to shake the foundations of high society by becoming ultra-famous bandits. Plunkett is the disgraced noble who wants the best things in life, McLeane is the hardened rogue jury-rigger with a score to settle. Their enemy is a sadistic envoy of the State, a vicious and methodical sheriff who will stop at nothing to eviscerate our heroes and their collaborators.
P&M, while sometimes light on the character development, plot and believability, is a high-octane Ravenloft adventure in every sense. Rogue highwaymen, duels, coach chases, damsels in distress, court intrigue; it's a total package from a gamers perspective. The acting is decent, the dialogue is surprisingly witty, and the action is innovative. So innovative in fact that it'll have you scribbling down notes for the next session. If you want pure adventure and action Richemulot/Dementlieu/Mordent-style, you could do much worse in the way of resource material.
The Reptile (1966)
(Three out of Five Stars)
Another Victorian-styled horror movie from Hammer Films, this one revolves around a retired military officer and his wife (David Baron and Jennifer Daniel) who inherits his brother’s cottage in a small Cornish village after the brother dies under mysterious circumstances. When he moves there with his wife, he discovers that there has been a rash of deaths and that all of them can be attributed to a rare poisonous animal found only in remote India. The obvious perpetrator behind these dastardly deeds to the reclusive doctor of theology (Noel Williams) who has made a career out of studying obscure religions in the Far East and who keeps his daughter a virtual prisoner in their manor house. But throw in a mysterious swarthy fellow, the daughter’s strangely hypnotic effect on her father when she plays the sitar, and things are a little less clear. Will the newly arrived couple’s only ally in the area (Michael Ripper) help them stop the spreading evil before it consumes them all?
“The Reptile” is the most strongly gothic in genre of all the Hammer horror flicks. There’s the ogre-like father and the oppressed daughter; there’s the mysterious Outsiders who are bringing a corrupting influence to wholesome British society, and there are curses and victims and victimizers who may not be what they seem. It’s a well-mounted film that contains several moments of genuine chills.
“The Reptile” would have gotten a Five Star rating if not for the inexplicable over-acting displayed by all the principles in the first half of the movie; inexplicable because the leads in the film director John Gillig helmed immediately prior to this one (“The Plauge of the Zombies, which even used many of the same sets) was blessed with beautifully restrained performances that made the film even creepier and more believable. It’s even odder because Michael Ripper gives the same type of under standed performance he did in “Plaugue.”
As the film evolves, the over-blown performances start to fit with the tenor of the going-ons, but they seem so out of place early in the film that it’s an irritant. The movie’s resolution is also a bit weak, with the title creature going down without much of a fight. The combination of the overacting in the first reel and the shaky climax were enough to knock off a star. Still, it’s an entertaining film if you enjoy Hammer-style movies or gothic tales.
Resident Evil (2002)
(Five out of Five Stars)
If you like action flicks AND are a fan of the classic horror flick "Dawn of the Dead," you're going to love "Resident Evil."
In a future where the global trade and politics is dominated by Umbrella Corporation, something goes terribly wrong at a top secret research installation under a major metropolitan area. A crack commando team is sent in to discover what happened... and come face to face with ravenous hoards of undead and other nasty critters created by the corporation's military/health research department.
The scares are neat, the action is non-stop and well-conceived, and, while the plot doesn't really stray from the "science goes horribly wrong and now the dead walk!"-type plot, it is very well executed and there are a couple of nice twists and interesting moments.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
(Two out of Five Stars)
This film is a direct sequel to the original "Resident Evil," and it sees Alice and a small group of survivors struggling to escape zombie-infested Racoon City before the city is destroyed by a nuclear blast intended to prevent the spread of the dead-animating T-virus and to hide the evidence of Umbrella Corporation's massive screw-up. Along the way, they have to defeat the company's latest superweapon, which it released in the city as a final field test.
I enjoyed the movie on a "sit back and watch the fight scenes and mayhem" level, but it fails as a horror movie or even as an action film. The plot had holes in it that you could fit a dump truck full of zombies through, the scares were mostly predictable, and the dialogue was at times so awful that "insipid" is a mild term for it.
In fact, think the potential in the sequel set-up at the end of the film is more exciting than the movie that led up to it. (I should admit here that I don't know anything about the "Resident Evil" computer games; is there a plot involving Alice running through them? I recognized the Jill Valentine character from promotional art for the game, so maybe Alice is a character culled from the games as well? Anyone out there care to comment?)
If you're looking for a scary zombie movie, don't bother with this one--I think "Shaun of the Dead" might have more chills in it--and if you're looking for a well-crafted action flick, you want to avoid this one, too. It you want to see some really neat wire-fu/special effects fight scenes and don't care that the material between them is really, really bad, then you should check this one.
I WAS entertained by the flick, but I was also disappointed. (Whatever you do, don't pay full price... go to an afternoon screening, wait for it to hit the second-run theatres, or wait for the rental dvd.)
(Two out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
A while ago I found this odd duck on the shelves of my local Blockbuster. I’m a sucker for war movies (because I get to use military slang!), and since this was billed as a horror it was doubly intriguing. The movie is an import from South Korean, which makes turning on the subtitles a must.
R-Point is set in the Vietnam War and follows a squad of Koreans on a mission in hostile territory. The film opens with a delightfully creepy radio broadcast from a platoon given up as KIA months ago. For some reason no one thinks it’s a trick and a squad is hastily assembled for search and rescue. To recruit some volunteers, the big brass offers an honorable discharge when they come back. While I was watching this, I thought to myself, “Doesn’t that mean it’s a suicide mission? They’ll only be recruiting idiots”. And yes, that is exactly what happens.
The team is an assortment of morons and cowards who bumble their way into a VC ambush within five minutes. The whole squad proves their collective lack of sense when they take a prisoner and refuse to kill her, take her with them or even ask her questions. Apparently none of them see anything wrong with leaving an enemy to your rear.
Our hapless halfwits make a short march to a misty field where they bivouac for the night. The next morning they find a temple towering over them (I guess recognizance isn’t as important as catching zees) and set up base. They discover that the area has been a real slaughter house over the centuries. Cue the haunting.
R-Point is pretty by the numbers during the build up. Most of the scares are pretty subdued. There are some creepy bits with the radios, but it’s a little hard to take it seriously when the actors are constantly freaking out and weeping like little girls. Towards the climax the movie completely falls apart.
R-point had a lot of things going for it. The production values were good, and the concept top notch. The script, however, was a bland rehash of old ideas, the characters unsympathetic, and the acting laughably over the top. Clearly the director of R-Point should have spent a quality little time with Deer Hunter, Platoon, or Apocalypse Now.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
(Three out of Five Stars)
The final 'Dracula' movie from Hammer Films, is not quite as good as most previous efforts and the budget constraints are painfully evident. Plus, Dracula's death is probably the most embarrassing any vampire has ever suffered. Nonetheless, the premise is just as appealing to me as it was when I first saw this film nearly 20 years ago now--it can be summarized as Dracula Meets The Avengers, as the vampire lord plans to unleash a deadly plague on the Earth.
Peter Cushing shines as brightly as ever, although Christopher Lee seems a bit tired in the film. It might be a reflection of Dracula's own mindset, but it's more likely the actor's dissatisfaction with the role shining through. The scene with the vampire brides of Dracula rising from their caskets and surrounding one of the main characters remains intensely frightening to me.
To read more reviews of this film, or to buy it from Amazon.com, click here
Scream and Scream Again (1969)
(Two out of Five Stars)
One day, during the Sixties, a clerk at a British movie studio dropped the scripts for three separate movies and the pages got all jumbled up. One was a supernatural/political thriller set within a fictitious East block country, the other was a modern-day psycho-vampire flick set in London, and the third was a mad doctor/Frankenstein flick. She tried to sort the pages out correctly, but didn’t quite manage to do so. The mish-mash of random pages was given project approval by an indifferent executive. A shooting script was approved by a drunk producer. Directors went about finding actors, and soon principle photography on “Scream and Scream Again” was underway.
I really don’t know if that story accurately describes how “Scream and Scream Again” came to be produced, but it’s a more generous explanation than one that assumes this incoherent and disjointed movie was written to be this way. For more than 3/4ths of the picture there is barely a connection between the various plots, except for a single actor who crosses over between the two. And when they do come together, it’s only barely and it’s not in any way that seems terribly well thought out. (A sign of the complete confusion that reins in this film is even evident in the theatrical preview included on the video tape; the actor who is identified as Peter Cushing is actually Marshall Jones.)
The story, such as it is, starts with a series of “vampire murders” in London. It turns out that these are being perpetrated by the creation of a mad scientist (Vincent Price) who is working as part of a global secret scientific society to create a superior human race through surgery. When the police refuse to investigate due to political pressure a young coroner (Christopher Matthews) starts doing his own investigation. He is soon in over his head and that’s when things get really stupid.
As awful as this film is, all the actors put in good performances, considering the weak incoherent script and inane lines they deliver. While Cushing, Lee, and Price get top billing, Cushing is only in one scene (and it’s a pointless one at that) and Lee’s presence isn’t much more than Cushing’s. Both actors could easily have been left out and the film would probably have been stronger for it; they are associated with the “Eastern bloc country” plotline. Price’s role is larger and very important to the story, but his screen time is still very limited and he doesn’t have much to do. His presence is almost as big a waste as that of Cushing and Lee.
And the score, the easy-listening rock/jazz fusion score, is almost too painful for words!
All in all, this film should go on the “must-miss” list, except for those who might be looking for the worst “day-for-night” shots since Ed Wood stopped making Z-grade thrillers and turned to Z-grade pornos. It makes the worst of the Hammer Film efforts look like the work of Orson Wells. What’s even more embarrassing for this film is that it looks like it probably had a bigger budget than several Hammer Films combined, based on the number of locations and aerial shots featured.
The Screaming Skull (1958)
(Two out of Five Stars)
"The Screaming Skull" is at its best before the movie actually starts. There is a gimmicky bit where the producers promise to pay the funeral costs for anyone who dies of fright during the movie's climax. It's far more likely that a captive audience member will die of boredom or irritation before the movie runs its course, so the producers will never have to deliver on their promis, as that little bit is more chilling in a corny sort of way than most of what follows.
This is a would-be thriller with the now well-worn backdrop of a widower marrying a one-time institutionalized (but very rich) woman, moving back to the isolated old mansion he shared with his first love, and the fragile psyche of the new wife either starts unraveling, or perhaps she is really being haunted by the jealous ghost of the original lady of the house... or maybe someone is trying to drive her insane again.
I can't fault the film for its I've-seen-this-a-hundred-times-before plot, because it dates from 1958, but I do fault it for being just plain bad. The script is awful, and the acting is worse. There are only two things the filmmakers do right--first, they reveal the source of Jenni's (the mentally frazzled rich wife) terror at just the right moment in the film; second, they successfully manage to convey the woman's deteriorating sanity and growing sense of isolation).he acting is worse.
I will also grant that the final ten-fifteen minutes of the film are actually not bad in a third-rate horror movie kinda way. But the ending isn't so good that it makes up for suffering through what led up to it. (And the filmmakers back off from making the ending as powerful as it SHOULD be by wimping out when it comes to Jenni's mental health, or lack thereof.)
Other positive notes are that aside from portions of the ending, there are a few other genuinely creepy moments, such as when Jenni is left alone in the house (which is suddenly filled with animated skulls). There are also some very nice shots of her roaming the house, and of the mysterious, shadowhaunted, vegetation-choked grounds that surround the southern mansion where the movie takes place that show some glimmer of talent on the part of the cinematographer and technical crew. Unfortunately, every time the actors open their mouths to deliver badly written dialogue with a level of acting ability that might not even get them into a high school play, whatever gains the movie made it loses. The leading lady, Peggy Webber, is a great screamer, but that's all she's good for (although I suspect the scene of her stripping down to her bra and panties was pretty racey in its day, so maybe we can list stripping among her talents).
Catch this one if it shows up again as part of AMC's Halloween line-up, and only then if there's nothing better on any other channel. But don't waste any money on it.
(One out of Five Stars)
Junji Ito created one of the only truly scary comic book series I've read--Uzemaki. His other famous series Tomie is almost as creepy, although you'd never know it from the incredibly boring movie adaptation. Tomie is the tale of a teen girl who is the center of violent love triangles where everyone involved ends up dead, including her. And, yes, it's plural, because Tomie is so evil that even death cannot stop her--her body always regrows, even from dismemberment, into an exact replica of when she was at her most beautiful... and then she goes looking for more victims to seduce and lead to destruction.
Tomie is an awful movie in every sense of the word. The only reason I suffered through it until the end was because I wanted to review it for here and because I kept thinking it HAD to get better. Tomie fails to take advantage of nearly everything that was truly creepy in the original source material, so it starts boring and it stays there; is filled with drab characters having inane conversations; spends too much time with characters talking about how horrific things are instead of showing the viewer the horror; and has special and gore effects so awful that Ed Wood is embarrassed on the filmmakers' behalf. Finally, the film seems to assume that the viewer is familiar with the Ito comics series, which is an unforgivable sin in my opinion.
I mention Junji Ito's books in one of the film reviews I just sent, you I figured I'd send you a review of some of this books. (This has appeared already at my RT site.)
(Zero out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
As is often my want, I found myself prospecting though the shelves of my local video rental store, searching for a nugget of gold amongst the muck. Mostly, I just find rocks - bland and lifeless; other times, I find gold. Sadly, in this case, I found a steaming turd. I'll try my best to review this movie fairly, though since there are few movies as spectacularly awful as Undead any attempt to summarize the movie will surely this film seem as though it made more sense than it really does.
This burnt offering is a product of Australia; the same nation that gave us Mel "The Passion of the anti-semite" Gibson. Though we get a number of desert shots and funny accents, the Great Humongous is strangely absent from this film. This is actually quite a shame - I certainly wish someone would have come on screen during this piece of cinematic crap and warned me to "just walk away".
The film opens up in a puny dirt town in the Australian outback (can't Australian directors find any other place to film?), where a series of meteorites start killing people and turn them into zombies. The show's starlet meets a gun totting hillbilly with the worst dubbed voice in history, and takes shelter in his shack. There they are joined by four characters who are so helpless, clueless and obnoxious that I couldn't help but scream at the screen "Hurry up and kill them!" What follows is a pathetic attempt by the director at action. Think what the Matrix would have looked like with an even shakier understanding of physics and if Neo wore overalls.
If the filmmakers had just given up there, I think I might have found something to like about this movie - yet drawn by the inexorable force of the drain, this turd continues a spiral into the bowl. The pathetic characters escape into the desert where they face a burning rain, a giant wall, insects that are being beamed up into the sky, and mysterious cloaked aliens (but no zombies, strangely).
Eventually it is revealed that the aliens are actually disinfecting the populous and returning the zombies to life - yet since one character manages to escape quarantine, the infection returns and the whole world dies - except for the one remaining starlet and a rag-tag band of survivors. The last scene was such a tripe piece of manufactured cool that I almost threw up in my mouth.
In short, this is a terrible film on so many levels. The acting is abysmal and the scrip even worse. The effects look like they were cribbed from a Doctor Who episode and the whole assembly feels like it was directed by a fourteen-year-old. Many kind souls have said that this film was intended to be "off the wall" and "campy" - but even a cursory glance will tell you different. This is neither Evil Dead nor Plan 9 from Outer Space. You won't laughing at the badness of the film - you'll just be crying for the $4.50 you spent to rent it. Its like watching 120 minutes of Jar Jar Binks and never once does he die.
If you see this film in the video store act immediately: cleanse it with fire. The store will thank you.
The Vampire Effect (2003)
(Three out of Five Stars)
"The Vampire Effect" is a light-hearted Chinese film about fearless kung-fu fighting vampire slayers who are called upon to stop an evil vampire lord from gaining the collective powers of all vampires and ushering in a new era of darkness and evil on earth.
The film is populated by likable (if goofy) characters, and features great fight- and wire-fu scenes, and is genuinely funny on many occasions. There is a romantic subplot where the teenaged sister of the chief vampire hunter falls in love with the slacker son of the Chinese vampire king that is a bit too sappy (and too close to what a genuine teenage love affair is like--content less phone conversations and lame dates--but the rest of the film more than makes up for it. Jackie Chan is featured iin a small part, but his performance is funny and actually revolves around a plot point.
I might have given this film four stars--it kept me entertained from beginning to end--but it lost a star due to the lack of a wrap-up at the end. In the same way the first kung-fu vampire movie just sort of ended when the action was over ("Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires"), "The Vampire Effect" likewise starts rolling credits almost immediately after the spectacular final fight is over. However, I was left wanting a bit more of a wrap-up for the Jackie Chan character. He had been drawn into what is implied to be a secret international war against the vampires, and yet the character is just dropped. It was the one sour note that was struck during this otherwise entertaining film.
You can read more details (and longer reviews) at Amazon.com. If you purchase the film after following the link from this post, a percentage of the price you pay goes to support my website.
Van Helsing (2004)
1 out of 5 (Cinematic Value) [(5 out of 5) Ravenloft resource material Value]
Jason "Samael Hands of Stone" Am(brus)
I remember stumbling across the poster for this movie about a year before it was released, and thinking "hey, maybe this could be cool". Of course I had just seen Bortherhood of the Wolf in theatres the week before, and I was uncharacteristically optimistic about the chances seeing the release of a "decent" period-piece genre movie. I waited patiently for Van Helsing's release and even brought a friend to the opening show. An hour-and-a-half later I walked out of the theater blind, deaf, dumb and defeated.
Van Helsing tells the "story" of mysterious supernatural warrior Gabriel Van Helsing, the latest in a long line of Simon Belmont-like monster hunters. The Van Helsings carry a terrible curse bestowed upon them by some vampire called Dracula (or something like that), and now all of of Gabe's ancestors are trapped in the netherworld between Heaven and Hell, playing Limbo (or are they stuck in Limbo?). Along the way Gabe will cross blades with an assortment of mythical creatures like werewolves, flesh golems, vampiric Harpies, and really badly dressed gypsies with Count Chocula accents. What would a blockbuster movie be without a love interest? Kate "They forced me to play in another stupid vampire movie" Beckinsale stars as the sultry Anna, head of the Valerious Clan that also has a score to settle with the Evil One. Together with Faramir...I mean Brother Carl, a wise-cracking parody of James Bond's Q, they set off on a 48-minute journey that you are guaranteed to completely forget, except for the irreparable damage to your ear drums and retinas. I won't give the ending away, but Van Helsong defeats Dracula and saves the day, but not before suffering a crushing loss to his little black book selection. Oops.
Despite the fact that movie is both obnoxiously loud, annoyingly badly scripted, and apparently edited by amphetamine-addicted former fighter pilots does not however mean that Van Helsing is without intrinsic Ravenloft value. Sure, it would have benefited from a tiny budget, and the casting of Bruce Campbell over Hollywood big shot Hugh Jackman, but Van Helsing does provide one very important example of how NOT to run your Ravenloft campaign (unless you are 12-years-old). As opposed to a movie like Amadeus or The Prestige, that will bring you to the very heart of a quality Ravenloft-like settings, lame ducks like Van Helsing will show you what to steer clear of, and how. For that reason alone I give this movie a double rating of 1/5.
The Village (2004)
(Four out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
I just finished watching M. Night Shyamalon's latest film, The Village. If you couldn't tell by his name, its going to be a horror film. Shyamalon is the same writer/director that gave us the suspense masterwork 6th Sense, Signs, and the sleeper hit Unbreakable. In this film, Shyamalon takes the view into the surreal world of the Village, a place of pristine beauty and puritan innocence. This paradise on earth is surrounded by the foreboding forest, the home to "Those who we do not speak of".
We learn, quiet quickly, that the village has been seiged by these mysterious, unseen creatures. The villagers keep the creatures appeased with bizare rituals, maintaining an eerie truce. Yet one day it appears as though the border has been breached. Like most of Shyamalon's films, the Village builds up to a surprise ending which will surely blow the audience away. I would gladly give spoilers, but if I do the "Ones who we do not speak of" will surely come for me in the night. Speaking of the creatures, you can bet that a single glimpse of these fiends will send you to the edge of your seat. Shyamalon's work builds excellently. When the audience starts freaking out just because the protagonist stumbled into a clearing of red berries, you'll know Shyamalon's a master.
From a Ravenloft perspective, the movie is an amazing source of inspiration. The pastoral beauty of the village is a perfect visual for the quaint hamlets of Ravenloft, as are the innocent villagers who hide a terrible secret. The relation between the villagers and the monsters is inspired and certainly worth recreating.
All in all, five red marks out of five.
Within the Woods (1979)
(Four out of Five Stars)
Stephen "ScS" Sutton
Every successful director starts somewhere, most likely on some low budget flick that no one will ever see. Long before Spiderman, Evil Dead or Army of Darkness, there was... Within the Woods!
Within the Woods a short film made by Raimi to raise money for Evil Dead. This is a proto-Evil Dead, where Raimi develops the concepts that come back later in his films. This is the movie that Sam Raimi doesn't want you to see! Luckily, nothing is beyond the grasp of the internet. Within the Woods runs about half an hour, the effects are limited at best, and most versions available have pretty poor picture quality. Even still, its well worth the download time.
The story opens with a familiar cast of characters, as five hapless college students awaken vengeful spirits from beyond the grave. In this film horror is unleashed when Bruce (none other than Bruce Campbell!) takes a dagger out of an Indian burial ground. Shortly thereafter he is possessed by a demonic entity and begins to carve up his friends.
Within the Woods has the same themes of the later movies, and also features some familiar scenes. For example, towards the end our female lead accidentally knifes the wrong man and repeatedly smashes his legs while trying in vain to close the door, which is nearly identical to the same scene in Evil Dead II.
As films like Evil Dead and Blair Witch taught us, great horror movies can be made on the cheap. Within the Woods won't be winning any awards, but is a great example of a basic horror movie. For a fan of the Evil Dead series, or just any horror movies, its well worth downloading.
(2 1/2 out of Five Stars)
Wiccy of the Fratertnity (retired)
What do you get when you cross black comedy, zombies, bad acting and poor camera work? No, I'm not talking about the Return of the Living Dead movies, bt instead Zombie Honeymoon, a nice little low budget ROM-ZOM-COM.
Newlyweds Denise and Danny are freshly wed, so fresh that we see them running out of the church at the very beginning of the movie, jump in the car and speed off, leaving their friends and family behind. They arrive some uncles beach house and are to spend their honeyoon there. Of course, plans go awry when Danny gets attacked and bitten by a zombie that walks out of the ocean one day. The movie from that point on revolves around Danny fighting off his urges to feast on the flesh of the living and some funny moments. We're not talking top of the line comedy (or anything else with this movie really), but the jokes are still fun.
With police investigations and suspicious friends (who eventually show up) things are getting worse, and we're not just talking about Danny vomiting up blood, bringing his food home and looking like those creepy guys with the bad make up in goth clubs. How can they keep his zombification a secret and get out of the country to live in Portugal?
There is sufficient gore and low budget horror to keep most fans happy if oyu like this sort of thing, but the end few minutes weren't really needed and they drag the movie out to long, it's still short, but I would have appreciated a shorter ending, at least once the story is resolved. Everything in the movie is below par, but it's xheap b-movie horror and I love that stuff, so I love this one also. Low budget fans might enjoy this, but people that exclusivle love classic or ever big budget movies will likely find this largely disappointings, it's an acquired taste (pun unintentional). I enjoyed it, but to give it a high rating would be unfair, given that low budget horror does have a somewhat small, cult fanbase.
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